January 26, 2010

Young students learning about entrepreneurship

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- You’re never too young to think about entrepreneurship.  That’s what a group of Carbondale grade school students is learning thanks to teacher Betsy Brown and a program from the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Office of Economic and Regional Development.

Brown is confident today’s children are tomorrow’s business leaders.  That’s why she is working with the Entrepreneurship Center to present the intensive entrepreneurship curriculum to the 48 fourth- and fifth-graders in the elementary school district’s academically talented program at Lewis School.

“This partnership provides real-world experience for these students who are eager to see the relevance of what they learn.  This age is a perfect time to capitalize on their natural enthusiasm and expose them to concepts that most students have to wait until high school to enjoy.  Good ideas don’t have an age limit and we do not want our young entrepreneurs to be hampered by lack of access,” Brown said.

The program began six years ago when Brown, an entrepreneur herself, and Emily Carter, director of entrepreneurship and business development at SIUC, began talking about their mutual feelings regarding how important it is that children think entrepreneurially from a young age.  Finding a dearth of existing programs for youth in business, Carter and Brown created their own program.

This year, Brown’s students began the classroom curriculum Jan. 22 and the program runs through the end of the school year.  The interactive youth entrepreneurship activities kick off with a business etiquette dinner Feb. 16 at the SIUC Student Center.  It’s a chance for the youngsters to participate in a multi-course dinner along with discussion of a variety of topics pertinent to business etiquette.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the youth business etiquette dinner Feb. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Mississippi Room at the SIUC Student Center.  For more information, contact Robyn Laur Russell at 618/453-3805 or by e-mail at rrussell@biz.siu.edu.

Upcoming activities for the young entrepreneurs include interacting with business owners around the region to learn about all aspects of owning your own business.  They’ll also enjoy a field trip to the University’s College of Business where they’ll hear from a guest speaker in the Burnell D. Kraft Trading Room about the importance of personal financial responsibility.  A community development specialist from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank will also offer insight into the concept of “building wealth,” Robyn Laur Russell, director of the SIUC Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center, said.

During an international luncheon at Hunan Restaurant, the students will find out about doing business in different countries and how customs differ.  Wrapping up the project at the end of the current school year is a business plan contest and a hands-on market-based experience at the Carbondale Farmer’s Market on April 24.

Laur Russell noted that with more than 1,000 respondents, an August 2009 survey by Junior Achievement found that teens in the U.S. overwhelmingly believe “entrepreneurial skills should be taught in college or earlier.”  That’s according to 92 percent of those surveyed.

She said the survey report, online at http://www.ja.org/files/polls/JA-Teen-Entrepreneurial-Poll-09.pdf, defines entrepreneurial skills as “taking the initiative and assuming risk to create value for the company or business, either as an owner of your own business or in your place of work.”    This is a clear indicator that teens are interested in business ownership and learning about entrepreneurship at a young age, she said.

For more information about this youth program or any of the other entrepreneurship initiatives of the SIUC Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center, contact Russell at 618/453-3805 or by e-mail at rrussell@biz.siu.edu.